In this blog, I periodically feature our colleagues in government so you can get to know us better. I also wanted to give you an opportunity to get to know more about our respected members of Council, starting with Barbara Bellin Janovitz.
With Councilwoman Janovitz, Beachwood welcomes its first female on council in 15 years. Long overdue, in my opinion! Barbara has lived in Beachwood for nearly 50 years, and in addition to her deep knowledge of the city, she is an accomplished attorney. As a partner in her law firm, she has been a trailblazer for fellow female attorneys. She will serve as the Chair for Council’s Communication and Storm Water committees.
Please take a few minutes to learn more about Barbara as she shares a bit more about herself in this interview.
1) What do you believe is the most important issue facing Beachwood right now?
We need to continue to improve open, honest communication between city leaders and residents, cultivate economic growth and maintain our outstanding city services in a fiscally responsible manner. We also need to continually ensure we are contributing to the highest quality of life for our residents. Council is determined to address all of these issues with specificity during the upcoming months.
2) Tell us a bit about your career.
I began my legal career as a labor lawyer at Hahn Loeser, where I worked with Earl Leiken, the current Mayor of Shaker Heights. I quickly realized that while I loved the intellectual side of labor law, I did not enjoy the long hours I was spending alone in the library researching and writing briefs.
I was approached by the chair of the firm’s estate planning group, Sidney Nudelman, who told me he thought I would be a great estate planner because of my business background and interpersonal skills. Sidney unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago, though his wife, Marilyn, remains a Beachwood resident and has also been a supporter of mine.
Although I had never thought of myself, and still don’t think of myself, as a tax lawyer, I realized that I wanted to counsel people on a one-on-one basis or in small groups and help them solve personal, as well as tax, issues. Considering I was raised by a guidance counselor, this made sense.
I also realized that becoming an estate planner would allow me to achieve the balance between my professional and personal life more than some other areas of the law would have allowed. When my children were young, I negotiated a part-time schedule. I often met clients in my home, a practice which I have continued to this day.
3) What is your educational background?
I started my college education at Georgetown but transferred to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania after my sophomore year. Wharton offered a labor relations major that piqued my interest.
I attended law school at New York University in part because they had a good labor relations program and in part because I wanted to live in New York. I loved living in the “big city." My friends and I saw Broadway and off Broadway shows almost every weekend (at greatly discounted student prices!). The only thing I don’t miss about my law school years are the roaches that seemed to find their way into every student apartment.
4) Did you know you would come back after graduate school?
The summer after my second year of law school, I was undecided about whether I wanted to begin my legal career in New York or in Cleveland, so I spent half of the summer working at a large firm in mid-town Manhattan, and half of the summer at a large firm in Cleveland. Prior to that time, I had gone to school in Washington, D.C. and in Philadelphia.
While I loved living in the other three cities as a student, I realized that I wanted to have the balance in my professional and personal life that I knew living in Cleveland would offer. Many of my family members, my husband’s family members and my friends still lived here, and I knew it would be a great place to raise a family while pursuing my career. After seven years away, I was ready to “come home”, and have never regretted my decision.
5) How did you meet your husband?
I met Lee in Cleveland the summer after my first year at law school. I was having dinner with a girlfriend from Beachwood at The Greenhouse in Cleveland Heights. Lee was there with a friend of his who had dated my girlfriend. He came over to our table to introduce himself to me. I asked him for a quarter to play PacMan, he asked me for my telephone number, and the rest is history. We got married the year after I graduated from law school and have been married for more than 31 years.
6) Tell us more about your family.
My oldest, Jenny, is 27. She is getting a doctorate in education leadership at The University of Pennsylvania. My twin sons, Steven and Scott, are 22. Steve will graduate from Washington University in St. Louis in May and will be working as a software developer for Microsoft in Seattle. Scott will graduate from Bentley University in Boston in May will be working as a business technology analyst for Deloitte Consulting in Boston. I am still hopeful that all three of my children will eventually move back to Cleveland (or at least not stay on opposite coasts of the country!).
Lee and I have an incredibly wonderful cockapoo, Kobe, who is like our fourth child. Having a dog certainly helped make the transition to being empty nesters easier. I love knowing that my husband and I have raised three kind, compassionate and funny children who I have no doubt will make a difference in the lives of others through their careers, community service and personal lives. I am so proud of them and enjoy seeing the world through their eyes.
7) How does it feel to be the only female on Council?
As I often said during my campaign, Beachwood is a diverse community, and I believe that gender and other diversity should be reflected in our government. This belief, that in order to best solve problems and develop innovative ideas it is critical to have a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds who can collaborate and offer different perspectives, motivated me to run for office. I was clear, however, that I did not want residents to vote for me only because I am a woman, but because I am a qualified woman.
I am proud of my experience cultivating female leadership. The year after I joined my law firm, I was elected to be the Firm’s first part-time partner and the only female partner in the Cleveland office. Twenty years later, nearly 60% of our female attorneys are partners in the Firm.
I am proud to be the first female on City Council in 15 years and hope that my election will encourage other qualified women and minorities to run for office. Being the “first” in many years adds a deepened sense of responsibility to do a good job.
8) What advice would you have for other women seeking public office, or women seeking to excel in the private sector?
I would advise them to stay true to themselves and have the confidence to believe in themselves. They should set goals, work hard for what they want, make plans and be prepared but not lose sight of what matters most to them. I would also advise them not to be afraid to ask for help and advice. This would be the same advice I would give to men!
9) What are your favorite spot(s) in Beachwood?
We love simply walking our dog around the neighborhood and in the local parks. I always enjoy meals at Cedar Creek Grille, and when my children were younger we loved taking advantage of the pool.
10) If you could pack up and leave for a vacation tomorrow, where would you go?
I would love to go to Italy, and since my sons will be graduating from college in May and tuition payments will FINALLY end, going to Italy may become a reality rather than a dream. My more immediate plans are to go to Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia this summer to help my children move into their respective apartments.
11) Tell us about your involvement/interests in community, charitable activities?
My father has been an inspiration to me in this regard. My sisters and I often spent weekend mornings picking up trash on the median on Chester Boulevard downtown with my father as part of the Big Brothers Program. He also supported my efforts to lead my Beachwood Middle School class in raising funds to support a student in need from another country.
Currently I am on the boards of several health and human services non-profit organizations, and I have a particular interest in issues involving seniors. The first board that I became involved with was the Golden Age Centers of Cleveland (the Rose Centers for Aging Well). The organization provides home-delivered meals to low-income seniors in Cleveland, as well as congregant meals and other activities at senior centers throughout Cleveland. I am also an active board member of The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, the Center for Community Solutions and the Montefiore Foundation. I was honored to have received the Cleveland Clinic’s Speaking of Women’s Health Award for Leadership and Community Service several years ago.
Just as my dad inspired me, I am gratified to know that my children feel a similar responsibility to help others through community service work.
12) Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people?
People might be surprised to know that after a long day of reading the tax code and drafting detailed documents, I sometimes enjoy reading People magazine or watching E News!